The City of Angels

After visiting Orland in 2012, I flew down to Los Angeles to see a friend.

I had been dreading a little this part of the trip. Tremendously excited to see my friend, yes, but less so to see Los Angeles. My brain had been warped by James Ellroy’s gritty noir tales oddly juxtaposing with glamorous visions of Hollywood. I was expecting seedy streets and beautiful people, decadence and despair not seen since pre-revolutionary France.

Picture of hills around Hollywood in Los Angeles, California

Hollywood Hills

And, in a way, that’s what I found. Poor neighborhoods–slums, really–and overpriced tourist areas. Trendy, arty clusters in a sea of suburbia. Groceries and chain restaurants and malls abutting movie studios and Lexus dealerships.

Image of Hollywood sign in in Los Angeles, California

Obligatory Hollywood picture

Hollywood was neither glamorous nor beautiful. Unathletic men in Batman and Captain America costumes shilled for money on the sidewalks while the Church of Scientology’s art deco building loomed on the horizon. Homeless people slept along the Walk of Fame, their meager belongings spread out across the accolades of millionaires.

Image of Hollywood in Los Angeles, California


The Hollywood and Highlands Center was a strange homage to dynastic Egypt, with the idolatry of chain stores replacing that of the pharaoh.

Image of Hollywood and Highlands Center in Los Angeles, California

Hollywood and Highlands Center

Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was lined with Cartier, Armani, and Bulgari, but the shoppers were tourists who had scrimped and saved for months to afford a small trinket of opulence with which to impress their friends back home.

Image of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, California

Beverly Hills

Downtown was eerily vacant. The Music Center was a strange glimmer of modernity in an otherwise stagnant ghost town.

Image of downtown Los Angeles, California

Downtown LA

Image of the Music Center in Los Angeles, California

The Music Center

Olvera Street–the oldest part of Los Angeles–was lively and colorful, businesspeople mixing with curious tourists. The Avila Adobe, though, was empty, despite its free entry and its distinction as the oldest standing residence in LA. Tourists were much more interested in the overpriced taquitos outside the museum than the history inside of it.

Picture of Olvera Street in Los Angeles, California

Olvera Street

Picture of the Avila Abode in Los Angeles, California

Inside the Avila Abode

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time in the City of Angels. Santa Monica was hypnotic with energy, from the pier’s spinning Ferris Wheel to the open-air restaurants and swarming people of all nationalities and resources.

Picture of Santa Monica's pier in Los Angeles, California

Santa Monica pier

Picture of a fountain in Santa Monica in Los Angeles, California

Around Santa Monica

Hermosa Beach, too, was a welcomed sight. Less populated beaches, blue skies, and a laid-back mentality.

Picture of Hermosa Beach in California

Hermosa Beach

Maybe, in the end, LA is just like any other city. A lot to love, a lot to hate. Wealth and poverty, residents and tourists, activity and idleness all tied up in the same few square miles.

Have you been to LA? What’d you think?


Northern California in the Fall

Farm Sanctuary provided me with the opportunity to go to northern California in September 2012. Not having been to California since I was five years old, I was incredibly excited to see the legendary land.

My colleagues and I boarded a plane at the tiny airport in Elmira, New York. Two extremely bumpy connections later, we were in Sacramento, California. From there, it was a further two-hour car ride to our destination, Orland.

Leading up to the trip, I had constantly mistyped “Orland” as “Orlando.” This turned out to be rather appropriate as I found northern California to be just as desolate as central Florida.

Picture of Black Butte in Orland, California

Black Butte in Orland, CA

The early autumn is “fire season” in Orland–the water dries up, the crops wither away, the temperatures soar, and the area becomes one carelessly-tossed-cigarette away from total disaster.

Picture of countryside in Orland, California

A moment away from certain annihilation

I am told that it is a bountiful, beautiful land in the winter and spring after the rains fall, but it was difficult to picture such a scene while there.

Picture of the countryside in Orland, California

The greenest area I could find

Although I found the heat suffocating, the animals at our sister sanctuary didn’t seem to mind. They pranced around, smiling for the camera and photobombing when appropriate. It was certainly worth the trip just to see them so happy.

Picture of Scribbles the goat at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

Scribbles, king of the goats

Picture of animals at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

Birdies doing their thing

Picture of a pig at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

Happy piggy

Picture of a chicken at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

My favorite picture ever

Even the local wildlife was out in force despite the temperature.

Picture of a lizard at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California


Picture of a baby rattlesnake at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

Baby rattlesnake!

Luckily I never ran into one of California’s most-famous critters, the black widow. (Side note: I just Googled “black widow” to find a picture and won’t be able to sleep for days.)

I suppose in the end I was disappointed with northern CA (the rural areas, anyway–I never saw the cities). The remoteness, the desolate surroundings, the run-down towns and long stretches of unpunctuated highway…I couldn’t fathom why anyone would choose to be there.

Perhaps it really does perk up in other seasons, but as it stands I never need to visit there again.

Have you been to northern California? What’d you think?

Autumn Inspiration

Fall is my favorite time of year. The feel of the cool morning air, snuggling up around a smoky campfire with a mug of warm cider, pumpkin carving and apple picking…what’s not to love?

I tend to be very locally focused during autumn, but that’s really a shame considering the world gets so lovely during these late-year months.

Help me look beyond my backyard! What destination do you think is best seen in autumn?

Farm Sanctuary

I used to work at Farm Sanctuary, and though the remoteness of upstate New York eventually got the best of me, I find myself missing the sanctuary as the days are growing shorter.

Picture of Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Farm Sanctuary in autumn

I came to know and love many animals during my years there. Some of them even loved me back.

Picture of a goat at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Dorothy, one of my favorite goats

Picture of turkey at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Apollo, my favorite turkey. He was deeply in love with me. (No joke!)

Picture of pigs at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Sebastian, Eric, and Jane curled up on a cool morning

Picture of cow at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Tweed, my bovine boyfriend

Picture of a cow at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Getting some love from Tweed

Picture of piglets at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Newborn piglets snuggled up in a cat bed

Picture of pig at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Julia, the piglets’ mommy and perhaps my favorite piggy

If you ever find yourself in the Finger Lakes, Los Angeles, or Sacramento, pack up the kids and go visit the Farm. Admission is $5, and you’ll get a guided tour that will go in with the animals. The three locations have different seasonal hours, so be sure to check the website before you go.

And if you do go, share your pics with me! I’m missing my old friends.

DC VegFest

Today was DC’s VegFest, hosted by Compassion Over Killing. Even though I’ve been veg for years and even used to volunteer for COK, somehow I’ve never made it to their big annual festival.

Picture of sign at the DC VegFest

The event draws about 10,000 people. There was already a long line by the time I got there, about 45 minutes before the gates opened.

Picture of line to get into the DC VegFest

The line to get in. I was at about the mid-way point.

In all honesty, the only thing I really wanted was the food from Vegan Treats. It’s by far the most popular booth at the festival, and I ended up just trading one line for another.

Picture of the DC VegFest

The line for Vegan Treats

I think you will agree it was worth the wait.

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

My friend and I walked around for a little while longer as we sampled food and enviously stared at the purchases of others.

And then we went to a brewery.

Picture of DC street life

At the brewery, for some reason

Annnnd then I went home to eat this:

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

All in all, a good day.

Tuesday Tip: The British Library

It’s not on most tourist itineraries, but the British Library is a must-see for any visit to London. The permanent exhibitions are free and open seven days a week, and they showcase important documents like the Magna Carta (one of only four remaining original copies), Shakespeare’s First Folio, and early drafts of Beatles songs written by the Fab Four themselves.

The rotating temporary exhibitions are not necessarily free, but are well worth the price of admission. The upcoming Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination looks particularly exciting – “Two hundred rare objects trace 250 years of the Gothic tradition, exploring our enduring fascination with the mysterious, the terrifying and the macabre.” I hope I make it to London before the show closes in January!

In my experience, there’s rarely a crowd at the library unless you happen to visit the same day as a school field trip. Should that happen, just come back later: the library stays open until 8PM Monday-Thursday, so you have plenty of opportunities to check it out!

Hints of the Roman Empire

I didn’t expect to find Roman sites in England. I suppose it’s because of my rather lacking, Alaskan education, but to me Rome = Mediterranean, and I was surprised to learn otherwise.

One of the most impressive Roman sites I visited in 2003 was Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex. Rediscovered in 1811, the villa was built in the 3rd or 4th century not terribly long before Rome herself fell to the Goths.

Not too much is known about the wealthy family who must have lived there. The villa is instead important for its mosaics that have survived across the centuries.

Picture of mosaic floors at Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex, England

Mosaic floors

Picture of mosaic floors at Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex, England

Mosaic floors

Picture of the hypocaust at Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex, England

The hypocaust (heated floor system) and mosaics

The mosaics are indeed impressive, but I was most taken simply by the villa’s existence. Roman architecture in Britain…who knew? Probably everyone but me.